Catch ‘em like fireflies here.
Cristiana Baik edited the latest issue of The Volta, focusing on erasures. I’ve got an essay there & am thrilled to be included with Jen Bervin, Truong Tran, Solmaz Sharif, Andy Fitch & Amaranth Borsuk, derek beaulieu, Craig Santos Perez, and Jennifer Chang. Thanks, Cristiana!
Tag, you’re it: Hannah Ensor, Diane Cook, Jill Darling.
What is your working title of your book?
The book is currently titled The Remainder, though that’s more of a place-holder than a title. The title comes from Jean Jacques Lecercle’s theory of grammar. While we’re often thinking of language as a thing that can be built (cue metaphors like “sentence structure,” “paragraph construction,” “framing an essay,”) language is, Lecercle would say, more aptly related to mapping. There is a lot happening on a tract of land that doesn’t have a corresponding plot point on a map, not to mention the fact that the plot points don’t represent what’s happening very well, either. Lecercle would say, “So, language is like that.” He would also say, “That’s what poetry’s for—to explore the uncharted territory.” The poems I’ve been working on lately use translation (loosely) to explore this idea to the nth extreme.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I am semi-fluent in French, so have been translating here and there over the years in an effort to hang onto and deepen my understanding of this second language. These poems came out of that—out of wanting to understand French, and realizing how untranslatable a cultural moment is, or how language shapes thought in ways we don’t realize. The difficulties of translation are like the difficulties of relating experience to someone who doesn’t share that experience. My understanding of racism comes out of my experience of sexism and heterosexism. If I had been born a straight middle-class white male, I might think huge groups of people (women, minorities, LGBTI folks) are just whiners. I imagine I would think our social problems were mostly made-up because I would have no corporeal or experiential way of understanding them. The book dives deep into the remainder: linguistic no-man’s-land. The theory behind the work has become a meditation (for me) on the need for compassion and empathy in our communities and workplaces.
What genre does your book fall under?
Conceptual poetry, or translation, or erasure poetry, or just poetry.
How long did it take to write your book?
So far, it’s been about five years. It’s nowhere close to finished.
What surprised you most in writing the book?
How abstract many of the poems are. The syntax breaks mid-sentence sometimes, or mid-clause. I didn’t expect that this experiment would lead so far from narrative.
What book or author has most inspired you lately?
The folks from Telephone Books have put out a new anthology called The Sonnets: Translating and Rewriting Shakespeare. I’m pretty excited to share space in there with folks like Judith Goldman, Harryette Mullen, Eric Zboya, Rae Armantrout, derek beaulieu, Geoffrey G. O’Brien, Tan Lin, Brandon Brown, Caroline Bergvall and about 150 other amazing voices. It’s a tome. You gotta check it out.
We talk about Blake, bodies, mystical photographs, and meter.